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Caltrain's future: 'Spadework' needed for permanent stability

Original post made on May 12, 2017

Caltrain's tortuous path to electrification and modernization has hit another wall with the new president's administration. The latest information is that $100 million of the $647 million grant — the expected installment for this year's project budget — was just included in Congress' budget for this year. But Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has still not signed the full funding agreement, and her signature is needed to unlock the funding.

Read the full guest opinion here Web Link posted Friday, May 12, 2017, 12:00 AM

Comments (78)

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2017 at 9:04 am

Not sure how this may be relevant, but I have been seeing tv commercials for Caltrain in the past week or so for the first time.

It has always amazed me that "let the train take the strain" type commercials for public transportation have never been a thing.


52 people like this
Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 12, 2017 at 9:36 am

What Yoriko Kishimoto and her Friends of Caltrain group don’t care to examine is why Secretary Elaine Chao has chosen not to approve the $647 million grant from the FTA.

Let’s take a look at why indeed this grant has not been approved.

The connection between this electrification project and the much despised California High Speed Rail (HSR) Project is painfully obvious. Caltrain and its advocates keep trying to separate the project from HSR but that is pure nonsense. Electrification of the Caltrain corridor is needed by HSR but certainly not needed by Caltrain. The HSR Authority is partially funding this $2.2 billion project with over $700 million of HSR funds. How can anyone keep saying this is not a HSR project when all the evidence points otherwise. HSR at the Federal level is so despised at that the budget has a line item stating “No funds for California High Speed Rail”.

To be approved for this FTA grant, Caltrain needed to show that after electrification of the corridor was implemented, the seated passenger capacity of the commuter line would be increased by at least 10% from existing capacity. The grant application which Caltrain sent to the FTA did show a 10% increase in capacity.

Caltrain did not submit to the FTA passenger capacity data which currently exists, but chose to submit data for passenger capacity that existed in 2015. The 2015 data was before Caltrain started using some used train cars they purchased from Metrolink. These cars increased the earlier capacity by about 10% to today’s existing levels. When using the correct existing capacity data, you find electrification does not increase passenger capacity at all from current levels. The application should have been initially denied on this basis alone.

There are other reasons why this flawed project should not be implemented. The cost has ballooned to over $2 billion, nearly doubling in cost in 5 years. The Postive Train Control system (CBOSS), needed is in complete disarray and lawsuits between Caltrain and its vender are ongoing.

The funding arrangement with the HSR Authority cedes 40% of the capacity of the corridor to the Authority for its use to run HSR trains. Thus, in the future only 6 trains per hour will be available for Caltrain and its commuter service. In the future this limitation is going to handcuff Caltrain in providing commuters adequate service.

Caltrain is ignoring advances in technology, which now can provide diesel / electric powered train sets at one-fourth the cost of this project. These new locomotives, meet Tier 4 pollution standards, are more powerful than current locomotives and would serve the system well.

This has all been pointed out by public speakers in public meetings, but thus far, Caltrain has refused to back off from their current plans. Charles Voltz from Burlingame in 2 minutes summarized with his remarks which could be titled “The Emperor has no Clothes” see:

Web Link

Morris Brown
Menlo Park


3 people like this
Posted by Steve Schmidt
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2017 at 11:19 am

Could not one of our local economic leaders (I'm looking at you, Mr. Musk), invent the "battery tender", the equivalent of the old coal tenders on steam trains? So you would have an electric train engine paired with a large battery car that could supply the energy needed for the engine. At night, the tender can be plugged in and charged for the next day. If the tender is running low, you simply swap it out for a new, fully charged tender.

Would this not save millions of dollars of infrastructure costs? Would this not allow Caltrain to add more train service, which is what is most desperately needed?


18 people like this
Posted by Barron Park skeptic
a resident of Barron Park
on May 12, 2017 at 11:36 am

Morris is correct. I worked at DOT in DC. This looks like a shill for HSR.
Regarding credibility, Ms. Kishimoto, as mayor, told us how great things were and how well setup Palo Alto was in 2008. Check the unfunded pensions growth in that period.


5 people like this
Posted by Think Out Of The Box
a resident of Barron Park
on May 12, 2017 at 11:44 am

"Could not one of our local economic leaders (I'm looking at you, Mr. Musk), invent the "battery tender", the equivalent of the old coal tenders on steam trains?"

How about this? You make a hybrid train, like a Prius. You generate your electricity on the locomotive as you go. You hook a diesel engine to a generator, and you eliminate all the recharging and all those expensive batteries too.


25 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2017 at 2:14 pm

@Out of the Box,

No out of the box thinking is even required. Hybrid locomotive technology has been around for years:

Hybrid Train: Web Link

The problem is Caltrain electrification has gotten all intertwined and conflated with the CalHSR boondoggle which is structured to funnel billion dollar construction projects and other benefits to political connected insiders and the donor class.


40 people like this
Posted by Corrupt officials
a resident of Mayfield
on May 12, 2017 at 3:38 pm

I hope that the Carolyn Flowers corruption scandal does not fall though the cracks. To recap, after approving funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for Caltrain's “modernization program”, the LA Times published an article revealing that former FTA Administrator Carolyn Flowers, has suddenly been employed by AECOM, a major vendor to Caltrain. AECOM has a financial interest in the “modernization” project, which the grant will fund.

It reeks of corruption when a federal official approves a grant then takes a job with one of the beneficiaries of said grant. At the very least, Flowers should be dismissed and AECOM should be disqualified from working on the project.


6 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2017 at 5:52 pm

@Ahem

Perhaps the reason they're not going with "hybrid locomotives" is that there's absolutely no need and EMUs are better suited for the job? I'm not sure why there seems to be such a strong desire to make this, and every other civic project, more complex than it needs to be, though I suspect that in itself is the goal...


5 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2017 at 7:30 pm

With all of the words in Ms. Kishimoto’s narrative, she seems to fail to mention that the preliminary budget for CalTrain for 2018 projects a $20.7M shortfall—

Preliminary 2018 CalTrain Budget (see page 2):
Web Link

Googling “Caltrain budget shortfall”, there are quite a few results going back through the years. It’s very clear that the management of the “line” does not have any idea how to live within their means. But, given that the bulk of the board of directors are elected municipal officials with no particular knowledge, or skills, needed for running a railroad—then it’s kind of a forgone conclusion that they always want to spend more than they take in in revenue.

CalTrain does seem to recognize that it needs to raise fares:

Web Link

but there is little evidence that these fare increases will offset the budget shortfalls.

And then there is the cost of all of the capital upgrades that CalTrain management wants the taxpayers to provide for a small number of people who ride CalTrain daily—$2+B for “electrification”.

While we can not expect “community leaders” like Ms. Kishimoto to tell us the unvarnished truth about the money-sucking black hole in our midst, the financial realities of this behemoth reveal what CalTrain and its supporters will not.

The idea that the non-riding public has an obligation to subsidize those riding this train is simply obscene. Sadly, it may have become sufficiently politicized that shutting it down is not possible.

BTW—CalTrain is not the original train that connected San Jose to San Francisco. The San Francisco and San Jose Railroad (SF&SJ) was fully operational in 1864. Southern Pacific took control in 1870.


Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley

on May 12, 2017 at 7:52 pm


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1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2017 at 7:57 pm

@Joe

One of Caltrain's biggest expenses is diesel. That's why this project has been in the works for decades.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2017 at 8:19 pm

@Robert

Don't fully understand your comment. Could you clarify by expanding your thoughts?

Thanks.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2017 at 8:38 pm

@Joe

You seem to be complaining about Caltrain's deficit in relation to electrification, when the whole point of the project is to reduce operating costs (i.e. eliminating that deficit). Either that or you were trying to weirdly imply that Caltrain should have a 100% farebox recovery...


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2017 at 9:04 pm

@Robert—

No, the bulk of my comments is based on CalTrain’s projected operating budget for 2018, which as in the past, is in the red.

If there are funds in this budget that are dedicated to the electrification, then it’s difficult to believe that those efforts have cost 20+M—enough to force the deficit. It makes sense that all of the electrification costs would be carried in a separate budget. However, it would take a detailed look at the books to see how CalTrain is budgeting that activity.

I am definitely complaining about the high capital costs necessary to operate this railroad. Finding hard data on all of the capital costs associated with CalTrain operation is difficult—but it’s probably in excess of $1B. Adding in the $2B (without financing charges considered) will probably bring the capital costs to over $3B. That’s a lot of money for carrying such a small number of people. In Morris Brown’s posting above, he points out that there will probably be no increase in capacity if this electrification were to occur—even though it’s not hard to find people claiming that the capacity will double. (CalTrain not the source of this sort of claim, though.)

So—my complaints are along two lines—poor management of the line where financial management is concerned, and the ghastly costs of electrification which will produce little in terms of results for the riders, and the taxpayers, of San Francisco, San Mateo County, and Santa Clara County.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2017 at 9:28 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2017 at 9:41 pm

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2017 at 2:32 pm

I'm not sure why some people feel the need to run astroturfing campaigns against sane regional transportation. While Caltrain is by no means perfect, trying to short change it while it while we're racked with some of the worst traffic in the country just seems... ludicrous.

As Ms. Kishimoto pointed out, Caltrain's funding model is problematic, and I think it leads to these astroturfing attacks from people like Mr. Brown. The problem stems from having to do piecemeal projects like electrification, grade separation, the downtown SF extension, and advanced switching. None of these projects alone lead to huge advances in ridership numbers or efficiencies, but when taken together, will create a much more efficient, reliable system which will service many, many more riders. I can't help but wondering if a single large capital infusion would help instead of suffering through repeated attacks which could jeopardize any individual project.

I also frequently see the current ridership levels cited as being the rationalization for not investing more in Caltrain. Not only is this galling to anyone who has to suffer standing from the South Bay to the City and back on a daily basis due to overcrowding, it's also circular logic. If the train is running at capacity, how could it possibly add more ridership without some form of capital investment?


3 people like this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2017 at 2:53 pm

HSR's "blended" approach requires that the ROW be electrified. Electrification has always been about HSR. The prospect of an electric Caltrain is political bait designed to get peninsula communities on board with electrifying the ROW for HSR.

Southern Pacific lost money for years on the peninsula commute service but CPUC wouldn't let them abandon the service. Finally in 1980, CalTrans took it off S.P.'s hands with both eyes open, knowing full well that subsidies would be required for years to come. If we didn't have Caltrain there would be more cars on the freeways and people would be complaining about congestion and clamoring to expand the freeways.


5 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2017 at 4:19 pm

"The problem stems from having to do piecemeal projects like electrification, grade separation, the downtown SF extension, and advanced switching. None of these projects alone lead to huge advances in ridership numbers or efficiencies, but when taken together, will create a much more efficient, reliable system which will service many, many more riders. I can't help but wondering if a single large capital infusion would help instead of suffering through repeated attacks which could jeopardize any individual project."

No. The problem is that Caltrain doesn't work for the peninsula. It's designed to funnel a subset of people to San Francisco. While SF is a big location for commerce in the Bay Area, it is hardly the focus the way Manhattan is for New York City. Heck, most of the large employers (e.g., Facebook, Apple, Google, Genentech) aren't that close to Caltrain stations, requiring private shuttle services and the corporate buses the NIMBY progressives in SF hate so much.

Add to the fact that many old Palo Altans (and other old residents of other peninsula cities) insist on keeping a suburban feel to much of the peninsula, VTA (and Samtrans) will never be able to provide an effective feeder system to Caltrain. VTA can't even service Palo Alto that well, much less feed Caltrain.

Public transit requires density. And that's what we don't have here.

As for the astroturfing accusations, I find that hilarious. The biggest astroturfers are the ones with big money (i.e. lobbyists and contractors who have given $$ to Jerry Brown) behind them -- like a certain California High Speed Rail blog run by someone who actually lives in Seattle. That's real astroturfing.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2017 at 4:42 pm

"The problem is that Caltrain doesn't work for the peninsula."

Wait what? Last time I checked it was the busiest commuter rail system by mile outside of New York City. Aside from problems with overcrowding I'm not exactly sure how its not "working"...


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2017 at 5:10 pm

"Wait what? Last time I checked it was the busiest commuter rail system by mile outside of New York City. Aside from problems with overcrowding I'm not exactly sure how its not "working"..."

"Lies, damn lies and statistics." These are sort of the context-free facts that are more problematic than fake news.

It takes a small fraction of the total commuters in the Bay Area. Also tells you how unique NYC is for transit and how it probably can't be duplicated elsewhere in the US.


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2017 at 5:22 pm

One more thing -- as for overcrowding, as a person who takes Caltrain 2-3 times a week during commute hours, overcrowding happens only on a small subset of trains, if at all. Also, crowding tends to be localized in the cars at the ends when there's plenty of space in the middle cars.


4 people like this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2017 at 5:55 pm

"as a person who takes Caltrain 2-3 times a week during commute hours"

You say it "doesn't work" yet you take it 2 - 3 times per week.

I don't know what "doesn't work" means in your lexicon. The trains fill up during rush hour, the Baby Bullets are very popular, they've had to add rolling stock to the fleet, it takes autos off the freeways, it serves many cities between S.J. and S.F., and they've expanded the service to Gilroy in recent decades (it used to go no further than S.J.). For tens of thousands of people it works.

"It takes a small fraction of the total commuters in the Bay Area." So what? It's a red herring to compare Caltrain ridership to the total number of commuters in all nine bay-area counties. It can only serve that portion of commuters within a reasonable distance of its ROW.

Subsequent to WWII it was a money-losing proposition for S.P. and it continues to be for the three counties it serves -- nothing new there.

It is what it is.


6 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2017 at 6:04 pm

I love it, complaining about the misuse of statistics, and then changing the superset to "total commuters in the Bay Area", as if people commuting from Napa to Marin would be expected to use Caltrain. I can see why in that context you consider it a failure though...


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Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2017 at 6:29 pm

You are correct, Robert. A fair comparison would count the total number of commuters between S.F. and Gilroy, i.e. S.F., San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. You would have to include automobile commuters, Caltrain, VTA, SamTrans -- the whole shootin' match.


5 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Want stats Robert?

62,416 boardings per day in 2016. Roundtrip, estimate 31,208 commuters per day in the best case scenario, which means no one offs.

Under 32K commuters in a region where hundreds of thousands of people commute to and from SF every day. Even if it were to meet a 10% increase in ridership (which it won't), that's only an additional ~3K commuters per day. Compare that to NYC and now you know why being "second busiest to NYC" may be true, but it's a complete farcical statement.

Not Morris Brown- "You say it "doesn't work" yet you take it 2 - 3 times per week. I don't know what "doesn't work" means in your lexicon."

While it may work for my situation at the moment, I know that I am in the minority of the peninsula that it does work for. I've done enough job changes in my career to understand that. Me != Public at large. Some people should learn from that.

"It can only serve that portion of commuters within a reasonable distance of its ROW."

Thanks for making my point. It's not a backbone for any public transit strategy from San Jose to SF as long as we don't have density on the peninsula for VTA and Samtrans to feed it.

$2 billion investment for an extra 3K riders per day. Um, that sounds like a great investment.


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Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2017 at 7:38 pm

"It's not a backbone for any public transit strategy from San Jose to SF as long as we don't have density on the peninsula for VTA and Samtrans to feed it."

Again, so what? More statistics and meaningless comparisons to New York?

"$2 billion investment for an extra 3K riders per day."

I agree that $2 billion to electrify the Caltrain ROW would be throwing money away. Electrification is no panacea; Caltrain runs just fine without electric trains. Electrification is a bagatelle to peninsula cities for HSR to get its foot in the door.

The peninsula would be much better served by grade separating the entire ROW. Palo Alto's 2% trench is estimated to cost 1/2 billion. Figure $1 - $2 billion when "cost overruns" are factored in.

Jerry Brown has another 1 1/2 years in office and hopefully he'll take HSR with him when he leaves.


3 people like this
Posted by Think Out Of The Box
a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2017 at 9:32 pm

"It's not a backbone for any public transit strategy from San Jose to SF as long as we don't have density on the peninsula for VTA and Samtrans to feed it."

Is Caltrain the means or the end? Are we supposed to densify our communities near its tracks in order to provide more riders for Caltrain? Seems a bit backward, wot?

At some point we must step back and do a first principles, zero base analysis of our transportation needs and feasible solutions. Note the feasible part. Caltrain is a nineteenth century holdover that serves, and can serve, only a very small small part of our present developed area. Ironically it used to serve much more, before its west valley service tracks were disappeared under the Foothill Expressway, a Barron Park bike path, and the rabid commercial development near Fry's. We have way outgrown it even as we let it shrink.

This totally out of the box: we may have to face the fact that the storied Silicon Valley has reached its carrying capacity.

In the end, all forms of transportation are subsidized by taxes, even the sidewalk you amble to the train on.


2 people like this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2017 at 10:17 pm

Caltrain never had a Los Altos branch -- Southern Pacific did, and it was closed in the early 1960's. On the contrary, Caltrain has expanded its service south of San Jose to Gilroy, which requires the use of tracks owned by Union Pacific. Whether Caltrain leases the use of those tracks from U.P. I do not know.


12 people like this
Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2017 at 11:12 pm

Never in my life would I have imagined suburban rail electrification to be such a controversial topic. Anyone fortunate to have traveled to developed countries in Europe or Asia has surely observed that electrified commuter trains are ubiquitous. Indeed I challenge naysayers to list any metro area with a ~4M population (Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco) in the developed world abroad which does not have electrified trains. Are those 100's of metro areas in 30+ countries all wrong?


17 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2017 at 1:51 am

Common Sense,

Been there (Asia), done that(Europe). The Peninsula will never have ubiquitous commuter rail service. The greater Bay Area is too spread out and the at-grade real-estate is too expensive. With the current level of waste, fraud and abuse built into the system, underground rail cost $2 billion a mile. If the Bay Area continues to grow it will grow into train-less LA like megalopolis, not Tokyo or London.

Things change. The smart money in the transportation business (Southern Pacific) understood the dynamics 40 years ago and unloaded the dead-end passenger rail service onto Caltrans and then the intergovernmental Joint Powers Board (Caltrain).


7 people like this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2017 at 4:13 am

10 years before S.P. unloaded the S.F. peninsula commute service onto CalTrans, the rest of the nation unloaded money-losing intercity passenger rail onto the federal gov't in the form of Amtrak. Today Amtrak loses a pile of money for U.S. taxpayers every year.

Now Jerry Brown wants to build a high-speed white elephant which is guaranteed to lose a pile of money for the state of California, while senator Feinstein's husband profits from the construction contracts she is bringing him.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2017 at 7:58 am

Caltrain is a very useful commuter service to those who use it.

We have too few useful transport options here. We can't even get to our airports by scheduled buses.

This country has blinkers when it comes to public transit. With the exception of Caltrain, it is viewed as a service for people who are too poor to own cars. This is both the viewpoint of the transit authorities as well as those who don't ride them. The reality should be that public transportation should be an affordable, efficient alternative to driving your own car on a regular, daily commute. People who use them, even if only a couple of days each week, should be encouraged to do so and everybody else should be pleased that they do because each rider on a Caltrain or other transportation is one less car on the road. For those who say they ride their bikes or walk to work, they can still be grateful for those who commute by transit because it helps to get your doctor to the office or your child's teacher to the classroom. Even if those doctors and teachers are not using transit, it keeps their commute a little easier.

We cannot all get fresh food in our supermarkets without using roads. We cannot all get to every appointment (business or pleasure) without us and those we meet with using roads. Getting less traffic by way of transit helps us all every day in ways we don't even notice.

And then there are those fools in this thread who advocate that Caltrain is not useful or even worthy as an alternative to driving. Of course it doesn't suit everyone and it certainly couldn't cope with all those inside cars on highway 101 as Caltrain riders instead.

Wake up to the reality. We cannot all continue to be complacent about this. We have all got to do our bit to think about what we personally are doing to traffic congestion in this area. We have all got to think how we can each reduce our driving, particularly solo driving, during peak commute hours. Even if only one or two times each week, we can make a difference if we think about it. It may be as simple as meeting a coworker and carpooling on a frequent basis. Or it might be taking Caltrain just a couple of times a week and then walking or biking for first/last mile.

Please stop advocating for the end of a very, very useful and very much needed alternative to driving at peak commute hours.


3 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2017 at 9:00 am

"Caltrain is a very useful commuter service to those who use it."

Exactly. The problem is there's not enough people who could use it.

"Please stop advocating for the end of a very, very useful and very much needed alternative to driving at peak commute hours."

End? No, we would rather put $$ into something that would generate an impact. Electrification doesn't. I agree with Not Morris Brown - if we're going to invest in Caltrain, it needs to be grade separation and having them terminate in downtown SF. Electrification doesn't do anything for that.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2017 at 9:33 am

@Me 2.

Actually I agree with you on your upgrades.

I will however say that it is misleading to think that Caltrain's ridership all use this service to get to San Francisco (or San Jose). I read somewhere that the majority (or large percentage but can't find the details) use the service for about 10 miles commutes.

For those who dig up statistics on riders, it may be a useful exercise to look at what the length of the commutes for all these riders. I can find which are the most used stations, but details such as how long, or how many stations, or how many zones, the majority of commuters use is a valuable tool in working out its usefulness.

I know of one commuter who rides from Palo Alto to Redwood City and would prefer a 30 minute rather than a 60 minute wait between trains that stop at both stations. The bullets and baby bullets are good for those who commute a long distance. But those who commute a shorter distance are just as important. I think these shorter commuters are possibly put off using the service because of infrequency.

If money is being spent on upgrading by electrification, then we also need to spend money on putting in the type of track where faster trains can overtake slower trains - slower meaning those that stop at more stations.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 14, 2017 at 9:58 am

"if we're going to invest in Caltrain, it needs to be grade separation and having them terminate in downtown SF. Electrification doesn't do anything for that."

Electrification is necessary for the downtown SF extension or any other kind of undergrounding...


5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 14, 2017 at 10:22 am

"We can't even get to our airports by scheduled buses."

San Jose has the VTA #10, reachable from Palo Alto by the 522; and SFO has the SamTrans KX with connections to Palo Alto, and the #397 direct from/to downtown Palo Alto in the middle of the night. I've ridden them, and they look like scheduled buses to me.

"Electrification is necessary for the downtown SF extension or any other kind of undergrounding"

Caltrain has 1/2 mile and 2/3 mile tunnels in San Francisco without electrification. Why would the last mile from 4th & Townsend to the Transbay Terminal need electrifying? I've ridden conventional Amtrak through the 10-km Moffat Tunnel.


6 people like this
Posted by Ernie
a resident of Community Center
on May 14, 2017 at 11:13 am

I disagree, while Caltrain would be better off with a legislated source of never ending funding, tax payers would suffer indefinitely. Look no further than VTA, the Santa Clara transit 'Authority', or the CA high Speed Rail 'Authority', agencies legislatively attached to tax payers, and both are pathetic examples of public service. Kishimoto, while perhaps well meaning, has never demonstrated any savvy with respect to the Caltrain corridor, famously declaring High Speed Rail to be a great advance forward before the ballot measure, only to claim she was 'duped' after the election, and apparently then, read the words in the ballot measure.

In my opinion, the best things for the long term viability of Caltrain are to sever it's deal with the HSR Authority, they are a fraud, period. Second, focus on grade separating the entire Caltrain corridor. Once that is done, cross track congestion disappears, train horns and crossing gate bell noise disappears, access to a fully grade separated rail corridor can be severely restricted, hopefully discouraging suicide by convenient access to the tracks, and for the benefit of Caltrain, they could run trains with twice as many cars, instantly doubling capacity with no additional trains because the length of the trains would no longer be determined by the distance between road crossings at stations.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2017 at 12:54 pm

Musical

Thanks for clarification on VTA buses to airports.

I had in mind what is common in other major airports are designated airport buses from centers of population direct to airports by way of highways. These buses are fast and efficient with wifi and drop offs at each terminal with the ability to carry luggage. These types of buses reduce individual car trips to airports with the need for long term parking or solo drivers doing the reverse ride. Uber is one alternative which can work for a family, but can be an expensive option for a single flyer.


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2017 at 1:01 pm

> the best things for the long term viability of Caltrain are to sever
> it's deal with the HSR Authority, they are a fraud, period.

Ok .. not a bad idea.

> Second, focus on grade separating the entire Caltrain corridor.

Another good idea .. but with all ideas, funding and all of the politics of obtaining the land where the grade separations would go becomes a “hot potato”. It would cost somewhere between $60M and $100M (best guess) for such grade separation if they are underground. Palo Alto wants to have Caltrain underground itself—believing that this five-mile construction project would cost about $1B alone.

Currently, there have been no meaningful estimates for other improvements to the CalTrain line.

> they could run trains with twice as many cars, instantly
> doubling capacity with no additional trains because the
> length of the trains would no longer be determined by
> the distance between road crossings at stations.

Would need to check with CalTrain about this. Have heard some rumors that the length of the platforms restricts CalTrain from adding more cars to their trains. Since this is an obvious suggestion—someone needs to get CalTrain to provide an official answer to this question.


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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 14, 2017 at 1:46 pm

I have had mild interest in this topic because I am no longer a commuter, altho it affects me in an indirect way, as a car driver (the congested traffic on Alma), when I drive downtown to a class at Avenidas. My only interaction with CalTrain is at crossings in PA along Alma, waiting to cross the tracks at East Meadow or Charleston, or waiting at lights on Alma trying to make a left turn onto those same streets to get to my home on Ross Rd. I have waited 10 minutes to make that turn if trains are coming by frequently. The light cycle gets broken and then starts all over once a train passes thru the crossing.

I tried to follow and understand the article and all the comments...it got very confusing at times...but I kinda like the last commenter, Ernie's thoughts on it.


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Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2017 at 4:34 pm

How many times do I have to make this point before it sinks in with you people? I've made it many times in the past and I'll make it again now.

"Caltrain electrification" is really HSR electrification. HSR is High-Speed Rail, the biggest boondoggle in the history of California.

The right-of-way (where the trains go) must be electrified for HSR to operate at all. The politicians and bureaucrats are offering "Caltrain electrification" as a ploy, as bait to get peninsula residents to support high-speed rail which has now become Jerry Brown's vanity project. They're selling electrification to the uninformed and gullible public by touting it as a panacea for Caltrain's maladies. Politicians and bureaucrats are playing you like a fiddle, folks.

Prop 1A passed in 2008, which the P.A. city council at first endorsed. They then did their homework -- after the election -- and discovered the many problems with HSR and then backpedaled, reversing their stance and now opposing it. By then it was too late because the election had already been held. If prop 1A had been voted down in 2008 as it should have been, there would be no HSR and no discussion of Caltrain electrification.

If you've got a couple of billion dollars lying around, spend it on grade separation and extending the platforms to accomodate longer trains rather than enabling Jerry Brown's vanity project.

Note that HSR has NO money for grade separation, but instead the cities of Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto are having to jockey for a few crumbs of measure B money, the bulk of which will go toward extending BART to San Jose.

Again, I will make this point. I don't know what other posters' idea of "enough" riders is, but the peninsula commute service has been a money loser since the end of WWII. Southern Pacific unloaded it on the state of California which acquired it knowing full well that it would lose money and require subsidies. If your definition of "enough" riders is enough for Caltrain to break even, forget it. Caltrain will never, ever break even and will require subsidies for as long as it operates, just like every single road and highway does.

How many riders take Caltrain each day? Is it 30,000? Would you rather have Caltrain or 30,000 more cars on Bayshore and 280?


4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2017 at 7:38 pm

@Not-Morris-Brown:

You don’t have to make your pitch to the “Stop HSR Now” group of us (and most Californians) anymore. Given the very lame reasons that we’ve been fed by people like the author of this article, it’s clear that the cost of “electrification” in no way justifies its costs.

The leaves the other issues of the inability of CalTrain to operate within its revenues, the unwillingness to charge its passengers the actual costs of operating the railroad, and where is all of the capital going to come from for little items like grade separations, getting Positive Train Control to work, replacing rolling stock from time-to-time, and money for the next $100K raise for General Manager Hartnett.

There has been a growing crescendo to impose another sales tax on the non-riding public to pay for this non-viable transportation mode.

You are certainly right about SP’s wanting to get rid of this money-losing segment decades ago. It’s a real shame that the issue was not put on the ballot before those who made the decision to take on the obligation did so.

CalTrain is just another example of how our governments keep running up deficits and kicking the can down the road for another generation to try to solve.


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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on May 14, 2017 at 7:56 pm

@ Joe and others--

Don't all public transit agencies require subsidies? I also seem to have heard some time back that Caltrain has a better 'farebox recovery' rate than most other transit agencies.


4 people like this
Posted by Think Out Of The Box
a resident of Barron Park
on May 14, 2017 at 8:04 pm

"Don't all public transit agencies require subsidies?"

ALL modes of getting around are subsidized, including the ubiquitous humble unelectrified sidewalk.


2 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2017 at 8:30 pm

Here is a radical idea.

Pave train tracks into a four-lane (two each way) dedicated bus-only highway. You can use a mixture of rigid bus, articulated and bi-articulated bus, to carry people between San Jose and San Francisco.

Bus can arrive at stations in 1-minute intervals. Given enough bus parking spaces, and the right mixture of bus types, the throughput of this four-lane highway can be huge, to the tune of 3000 people per hour at San Francisco.

Bus is far more flexible and low maintenance than CalTrain. Less pollution too if you use LNG or hybrid buses.


2 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2017 at 8:35 pm

If we use bi-articulated bus with 180-seat capacity the throughput at San Francisco can be 180 * 60 = 10800 people per hour. That will be way more than what CalTrain can do.


3 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2017 at 8:38 pm

> Bus is far more flexible and low maintenance than CalTrain

This is an idea that really needs to be considered. China is not operating buses that hold up to 300 people. A small fleet of 100 of these might easily carry all of the current passenger traffic that CalTrain does with the added ability to not be restricted to the CalTrain right-of-way.

>CalTrain farebox recovery.

CalTrain does, from time-to-time, bury its farebox recovery rate in one of its reports. Unfortunately, they don't post this sort of information on the trains, nor on its web-site. CalTrain looks to be increasing its fares, due to the staggering $20M operating loss. Not certain how this will reflect in the farebox recovery numbers.

> sidewalk subsidy

When one lays down sidewalks, this is generally essential infrastructure that is paid for from the general fund of a municipality or some sort of capital fund. Yes, the taxpayers ultimately pay for it, but they do so understanding that it is essential. CalTrain is not essential infrastructure.


1 person likes this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2017 at 9:14 pm

By how much would you have to raise fares for Caltrain to break even? If you raise the fares too much, people will balk and drive their cars because it's cheaper, even if it takes them 2 1/2 hours to go from Palo Alto to the city because there will be 30,000 more cars on the freeways.

Yes, the matter should have been put on the ballot before the state of CA committed to taking on Caltrain subsidies in perpetuity.

CalTrans took over the commute service in 1980. Prop 13 had passed a mere two years earlier in 1978, dramatically cutting state property-tax revenue. And who was governor at the time? Why, Choo-Choo Jerry Browndoggle. Are we surprised? Governor Moonshine seems to think CA should be in the money-losing passenger-rail business no matter what.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 14, 2017 at 9:47 pm

Fortunately our schools and libraries are turning a profit.


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2017 at 10:03 pm

@m2grs,

Very interesting thought experiment. We need more of this kind of real outside-the-box thinking, if for no other reason than to just understand how well rail performs compared to other technologies. We are not going to get it from our technically illiterate political "leadership".

My gut feeling is rail, which was developed to simultaneously carry the great weight of freight and also be a mechanical guidance system is over built to carry passengers and obsolete as a guidance system. Too much of the way the system operates is programmed in very expensive steel and concrete.

high-speed Rubber-tired people-movers with clean on-board power and electronic navigation would be much more flexible and adaptable to meet evolving conditions and/or demand. This type of system would also be much better positioned to leverage evolving networking, ride-sharing, and demand management technologies.


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Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2017 at 12:00 am

"Here is a radical idea.

Pave train tracks into a four-lane (two each way) dedicated bus-only highway. You can use a mixture of rigid bus, articulated and bi-articulated bus, to carry people between San Jose and San Francisco."

Where would you put the freight trains?

Why would buses be more economical to operate than trains or even light rail? A good case can be made for going light rail and carrying both freight and passengers. All you have to do is negotiate with Caltrain, Union Pacific and CA HSR and get them to agree to it.

In round numbers Caltrain lost $30 million in FY 2014. $67 million went to the "Rail Operator Service", which presumably covers non-administrative labor such as train operators and conductors.

Caltrain would turn a profit with a 40% fare increase, assuming the higher fare wouldn't scare away passengers, which it probably would.


8 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2017 at 9:31 am

@Not Morris Brown,

Why would buses be more economical to operate than trains or even light rail? Because (1) Bus-only highways require must less infrastructure maintenance. There is no need to maintain expensive electric wiring, signaling system, tracks, etc. It's just a regular highway. (2) Buses are much less expensive and easier to replace/repair, from multiple manufacturers. and (3) Bay area cities already have a bus infrastructure in place, Muni, VTA, etc., that can be leveraged.

Bus dispatches can respond to peak demand much more quickly and efficiently. Cities around the world do this all the time.

The highway is bus-only. But the buses are not highway-only. Buses can be driven off ramp into other highways or local streets to arrive at places much closer to actual commute destinations. Imagine Almaden - UCSF bus routes, Morgan Hill - Google Campus - Facebook Campus routes, etc., by connecting and leverage the network of highways in bay area. This bus-only highway can serve as a backbone to dramatically improve commutes in all directions. CalTrain will never ever be able to do this.

A four-lane highway can support 2000 vehicles per hour flow rate at speed limit (remember the 3-second rule in driver license test?) Let's say for bus the flow rate is only half, 1000 per hour, at speed limit. If we plan 60 arrivals per hour at San Francisco, there are plenty of extra capacity on this highway to support other buses, such as Google/Facebook/Apple corporate buses, charging a reasonable toll, say $50 per bus entry. I'm sure these companies will be glad to pay for the toll. The time saved per employee is well worth the toll.

By allowing private buses, carefully planned of course, to use this highway we will also significantly reduce rush hour congestion on regular highways, while collecting revenue to help sustain the infrastructure.

As for the freight train. Yes it has to be sacrificed. However we can allow freight trucks to run at night to compensate for the loss. But bottom line is that what is more important to bay area? Solving the tremendous traffic problem or freight train to San Francisco?



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Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2017 at 9:49 am

A clarification, the 1000 buses per hour flow rate is one direction. So it will be at least 2000 buses per hour capacity in both directions.

If we count average 60 passengers per bus the flow rate is 120,000 people per hour on this bus-only highway. I think this number is quite conservative. Nevertheless it is already way beyond what CalTrain can do with or without electrification.


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Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2017 at 10:25 am

Which would have the right-of-way at crossings, the busway, the cross street or would they both stop?

"As for the freight train. Yes it has to be sacrificed."

It's a nice fantasy. Let us know how the lawsuit brought by Union Pacific turns out.


5 people like this
Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 15, 2017 at 3:45 pm

I'm against HSR but for Caltrain electrification. There's no reason a diesel spewing train should be barreling down the Peninsula 50+ times a day. We don't need the pollution, especially those of us who live nearby. Time to embrace the 21st century and electrify!


6 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2017 at 8:23 pm

For those who think that electrification is the only way to reduce CalTrain “pollution”—

GE has announced a hybrid diesel-electric locomotive that meets the EPA’s Tier-4 specifications:

Web Link

EPA Tier-4 Standards:
Web Link

It’s a shame that this delusional “electrification” project has managed to hook some of our “leaders”. There are a number of solutions for rethinking CalTrain that do not involve electrification.


3 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2017 at 10:30 am

"delusional “electrification” project has managed to hook some of our “leaders”."

Money talks.


2 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Dramatically reducing distance to work is another option to reduce the traffic problem. Work from home, work connected from nearby leased shared spaces some or all of the week and variations of the above should be standard offerings by employers. There is plenty of workplace technology out there to enable such arrangements. People living in SF for the excitement of the city but commuting to work in Mountain View or SJ (and the many other work or housing issues that require such long commutes) could be vastly changed with substantially improved planning that puts more work next to more housing - reducing the need to chase ever expanding demand for more lanes and more trains. A good transit solution should be coupled with a good housing solution and, as above, far more participation by business to reduce the need for employees to spend so much time on the road.

In the end, the penninsula may have to accept much higher density at the expense of small towns which requires much bigger thinking than current planning.


14 people like this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2017 at 7:33 pm

"delusional “electrification” project has managed to hook some of our “leaders”."

That is precisely the calculated effect Jerry Brown and his henchmen want to have on the local yokels as they electrify the ROW for HSR.

Don't fool yourselves into thinking Sacramento gives a horse's patoot about Caltrain or the peninsula. All they care about is high-speed rail.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 17, 2017 at 1:00 am

Electrifying CalTrain is about modernizing CalTrain, independent of High Speed Rail. It has been in CalTrain's plans since before HSR. Anyway, from a Caltrain publication a few years ago here: Web Link

The listed benefits are:
o Improved Train Performance, Increased Ridership Capacity and Increased Service
o Increased Revenue and Reduced Fuel Cost
o Reduced Engine Noise Emanating from Trains
o Improved Regional Air Quality and Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

All modern trains use electric power to turn the wheels. The current diesel electrics put the drive wheels under the locomotive, and have to convert diesel to electricity in real time to move the train. The cars are heavy, and the locomotive is heavier than the cars, because of the weight of the engines, and also to have enough weight to get traction to pull the train. The longer the train, the slower the acceleration. With an all-electric system the drive wheels are under every car, and the diesel engine does not have to be moved with the train, so the whole train is lighter, saving energy, and more of the weight bearing wheels can be powered, so the acceleration can be much faster. CalTrain will run much more quickly with electric train-sets, especially the local trains which have to make all the stops.

If you have ever waited as a pedestrian for an accelerating CalTrain to pass at one of our grade crossings, you have experienced the noise and pollution from those diesel engines.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 17, 2017 at 4:30 am

It is 4:20 AM on 05/17. I have no street lights. Looking around it appears the grid has been shut down relative to street lights - not sure what else. So we are suppose to have an electric train dependent on a viable grid? And no one can claim it is because we don't have water to generate electric
power and need to save resources.
The fact that the train is moving by a source other than electricity is a plus. My feelings are that this whole project is totally discombobulated and is doomed to failure. We need to just buy the new locomotives that have the latest technology. Problem is that many contractors have links to government that are pushing for the electrification purely for a monetary gain.


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 17, 2017 at 5:05 am

I read the Mr. Roadshow column in the SJM and it continually points up the total set of problems throughout the bay area, some in part relative to the signage on the Freeways. So copper wire is being stripped from electrical grids. There is no money for maintenance at the Bart stations. The whole transit system from highway to electric trains in San Jose is now fraught with problems due to lack of money for proper maintenance. We have a major monetary problem right now which also extends to the SF Transportation Building which is causing the buildings next door to sink - they are going to be sued. Caltrain is dependent on all of the supporting pieces to be working and more and more problems are now occurring. Lack of maintenance and movement of land and water enter into the picture. We talk big but keep falling down in execution and maintenance of existing transportation systems.
Caltrain works - dismantling it for electrification will be a major blow to the whole transportation picture.
Best idea is to sink the crossroads under the tracks or raise the tracks above the roads. It is the roads that are the problem. They have solved that in San Mateo County. If San Mateo County has solved it why can't we solve it.


2 people like this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2017 at 5:27 am

The linked-to page on the Caltrain web site quotes $1.7 billion to electrify (in reality at least double that for the inevitable "cost overruns").

Those are wonderful benefits of electric locomotives but you'll get much more bang for your $3 billion by grade separating the right-of-way and relieving surface-street gridlock. I would think grade separation should be a higher priority than electrification.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the bulk of California's electricity is generated by natural gas, not by water.


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 17, 2017 at 8:33 am

My notes on this subject include a law suit by one of the proposed contractors for electrification. Delays is the awarding of a contract drive cost changes. We have somehow sunk this project into a legal battle that those at the top are now trying to extricate themselves from. Suggest that a total listing of proposed contractors be provided and contract award value.
We need to know who is politically / commercially driving this effort. The effort is overriding what we know to be failings in the proposed execution of the effort. Also suggest that an alternate proposal be provided for a new set of engines and grade crossing changes. Then let the taxpayers vote on this.
The taxpayers have been misled way back when and that needs to be corrected.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2017 at 9:40 am


Natural Gas provides about 44% of California's electricity. Hydro about 6%.

California's Electricity:
Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2017 at 11:32 am

> The listed benefits are:
> o Improved Train Performance, Increased Ridership Capacity and Increased Service
> o Increased Revenue and Reduced Fuel Cost
> o Reduced Engine Noise Emanating from Trains
> o Improved Regional Air Quality and Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

All of these goals might be noble in some people’s point-of-view, but how in the world can anyone say that they are worth $2B-$4B?
As to the claim in the post above about electric train’s accelerating fast than the current diesel locomotive—this is true to the point of a few seconds, but no long. Again—worth $2B-$4B?


2 people like this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2017 at 1:00 pm

"All of these goals might be noble in some people’s point-of-view, but how in the world can anyone say that they are worth $2B-$4B?
As to the claim in the post above about electric train’s accelerating fast than the current diesel locomotive—this is true to the point of a few seconds, but no long. Again—worth $2B-$4B?"

So very true. Again, you'd get more bang for the buck from grade separation. Auto traffic wouldn't sit waiting for a train to cross and would have better throughput, resulting in slightly lower fuel consumption and automobile emissions.

Electricity is not free. I have not seen a comparison of the costs of diesel trains vs. electric, but the electricity to run electric trains would have to be paid for somehow.

"We need to know who is politically / commercially driving this effort."

That's easy. Jerry Brown has made it his vanity project.

Dianne Feinstein's husband has been getting HSR contracts for his construction company. Coincidence?


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 18, 2017 at 6:49 am

The status of funding for Caltrain is discussed in the SJM today indicating that if the funding is not provided by June the project will go back to the drawing board. That is probably a good thing as the original contract assumptions no longer apply as they were developed very long ago under different circumstances. It is time that this project - as a stand alone project that has to integrate with the local transportation projects it is interfacing with in the San Jose and San Francisco areas has changed. San Jose is developing a whole transportation scheme which includes BART, Light Rail, ACE, Amtrak that are all converging in centralized locations where new technology centers are being developed in the SAP center area. The rest of the area is not slowing down in a hold mode waiting for electrification to catch up.

We still need to resolve the major hurdles for street crossings.
Every narrative you read says that electrification will increase the number of trains, train speed, etc. Bottom line is that if you don't resolve the problem of street crossings that is all meaningless. The street crossing are what is driving the delays and problems. That is the problem that has to be resolved. I have seen the building of underpasses in the San Bruno area while the rail system is supported by structures to maintain the rails - that has already been done - it is doable.
While BART requires different funding we need to demand that the original narrative / selling point for this system was that it would go around the bay. Time to put that system back on track so that the transportation narratives are carried out as taxed and funded. We paid taxes for that. Large projects get sold on false narratives - time to get real here and clearly understand what the risks and assumptions are and if they have been properly addressed.

So no street lights again last night - never turned on - area in blackness. The other bottom line here is that we do not have control of the grid - or the grid is not being maintained correctly. We keep falling down on major maintenance efforts for existing systems - water projects, roads, etc. NO CONFIDENCE in state's ability to prioritize how money is spent here.


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 18, 2017 at 9:28 am

Note on process - all of the contractors who have competed for contracts related to this effort have spend Bid and Proposal dollars - B&P (their own dollars) to develop their proposals - some highly technical in nature. All expect to be chosen and recoup their costs as they perform the respective jobs they are responsible for. So lack of award is money down the drain for them up front. Also assume that many of these firms are owned/managed by the members of the Silicon Valley Groups. They will push very hard for this effort to be started on elusive dollars not yet funded. Everyone is betting on the come. The news reported that Dianne Feinstein's husband Richard Blum has been awarded a HSR contract - note major conflict of interest. The fact there are many holes in this whole scenario is irrelevant to the outcome desired by the bidding parties. This whole state is functioning on budget issues that are betting on the come and the taxpayer is being looted in the process.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 18, 2017 at 10:54 am

"So no street lights again last night - never turned on - area in blackness."

We make up for this by the number of street lights that burn all day long.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2017 at 11:02 am

> We make up for this by the number of street lights that burn all day long.

Each street light in Palo Alto has a light-activated switch that is supposed to turn off the street light. If there is a light that is on every day, then residents who notice that should note the pole number, or location, and notify field services, or use the on-line notification service.


2 people like this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2017 at 7:09 pm

Between Jerry Brown and Dianne Feinstein and her husband Dick Blum, the fix is in.

As for BART around the bay, look at how much money has been spent on the BART extension to San Jose and compare that to the pittance spent in north county on things like grade separation. People complain all the time that the bulk of the county/VTA funds go to San Jose.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 18, 2017 at 9:43 pm

@Joe, I heard somewhere that the light-sensor housings get dirty (covered with tree pollen?) and then the lamps think it is always night. I used to report things online at PaloAlto311/service_request, but they now require a phone number (contact in case they are unable to locate the problem or need clarification). I'm okay with name and email, but gave up on phones when 99% of my calls were spam, phishing, or polls.

Difficult to find a legible number on many of our light-poles; street address should be sufficient. Several, like the one at Tennyson and Alma, have been lit 24/7 for months. Perhaps in my wanderings over next week or two I'll generate a list and email it to the city. The service request form is cumbersome if reporting dozens of items.

Back on-topic, I gathered some morning rush hour data a couple weeks ago at Meadow and Alma. Between 7:30 and 8:30 am there were 10 trains (5 each direction), 10 cycles of the railroad gates, averaging around 50 seconds duration.

If Meadow eastbound was not already green, it got a preemptive green while the gates came down. About 20 seconds into the gate cycle, Meadow goes red and Alma cars get the green light. Yes the train interrupts the stoplight cycle, but does not cause a complete standstill. Ten trains may have consumed 200 seconds of traffic capacity out of the 3600 seconds in the hour.

During that hour, Meadow got 33 green light cycles, most east and west with left turns, and a few abbreviated by the trains. And Alma got 33 green light cycles, most including the lefts; a few left arrows got skipped for the trains.

Luck of the draw that morning, there was always time for a full stoplight cycle between trains, but sometimes a northbound and southbound will bring the gates down twice in quick succession causing drivers some frustration, where 3 minutes can feel like 10.

This was a school day at the time of heaviest bike traffic, with the crossing guard (the school-hour guy holding the portable stop-sign, not the track guy) always pushing the westbound Meadow walk-button, and several random pedestrians pushing the eastbound walk button. The full stoplight cycle took up to 2 and a half minutes. Even with the trains, I don't think I saw a car that had to wait more than 2 cycles to cross the intersection in any direction. (Your mileage may vary.)

Bottom line in my opinion -- grade separation is much more a safety issue than a traffic issue. Alma traffic is the primary impediment to east-west movement, even if the number of trains were doubled. Drivers mostly seemed well-behaved. Even those on their phones were quick to see their light turn green. For some reason afternoon rush hour drivers appear more distracted. Don't know whether anyone has tried to quantify that effect.

This Saturday's 4-hour "Rail Workshop" should be entertaining.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 19, 2017 at 6:36 am

One problem on funding for transportation projects is the way congressional districts are laid out. We are in the Santa Clara County of which San Jose is the main / largest city. All of the administrative offices for the county are located in San Jose. However Palo Alto is in a congressional district outside of San Jose and outside of Redwood City, San Mateo County. Taxes are collected at the county/state level so San Jose is driving the decisions for the county. Is it Mr. Berman's job and Joe Simitian's job to make sure that the transportation dollars are allocated over the whole county so that PA is getting the work done for grade separation and BART extensions? We have the same problem at the federal level with Ms. Eshoo - she is in the middle of a location which has expensive homes but no control over how those tax dollars are spent. Expensive homes should equate to some political power but we are being overridden on a continual basis. We are not a major city - despite what we think - and we have little control over the transportation decisions being made - both on the ground and in the air.


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Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2017 at 8:09 am

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

Everyone, please consider coming to a Community meeting on grade separations (separating roads from the train tracks) TOMORROW, 10AM - 2PM at Mitchell Park Community Center Web Link

This could be the most transformative project to Palo Alto If you live along the tracks, you should be interested. If you live anywhere in Palo Alto, you should be interested. With the number of trains increasing in frequency and length, as well as safety and noise concerns, we must do something about our four track crossings.

Please come and participate!


2 people like this
Posted by Not Morris Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2017 at 9:30 pm

For everyone's convenience, here is a link to the engineering study commissioned by CPA and performed by Hatch, Mott, MacDonald.

Note that there are NO illustrations and no map of the contemplated parcel takings envisioned by the plans that would require parcel takings. Unless a H.M.M. representative is present at this meeting, we can only guess whether they envision a great, big structure like a freeway interchange with cloverleaves, or something more modest such as the hybrid grade crossings in other cities.

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 20, 2017 at 8:42 am

Any one can drive along El Camino in San Mateo County and see the low-key but functional Cal Train underpasses, as well as some tunnels for bikes and walkers. Likewise as to bridges over major streets and highway crossings for walkers and bikes you can go to Mountain View and walk the creek path that takes you into Shoreline Park from west of El Camino - all forms used here - tunnels, overpass bridges. This is a heavily used bicycle commuter path at commuter times. It is located under high wires so the area was carved out for support of the grid.

So Palo Alto was suppose to build a bike overpass and got bogged down in some desire for a "Statement" of grandiosity that eventually did not get built because of lack of funds and over-kill on the requirements.
We seem to have a problem here - "Statements" overrule common sense on major projects in which we have a large number of contractors who are looking to create a long-term relationship with a project which includes delays in schedule, delays in funding, delays in good project management. "Statements" are used to enthuse the vote for the project and move the eye from what the project is actually suppose to do. Over-enthusiastic city planners want to leave a legacy project they can point to.
This is one of those projects that does not need over-kill, does not need "Statements", and does not need many contractors trying to overreach the requirements to build up their contract requirements. We can isolate any city employee or contractor who is pushing the envelope here and exceeding the basic requirements. Other cities have done this successfully so we have many working models to work from. Please - no grandiose "Statements" here.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Wahlburgers opens in Palo Alto
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